These past weeks’ demonstrations, protests, and proclamations continually evoke the principle that constitutional powers must be separated, but conveniently ignore the checks and balances which are meant to be inherent to any functional democracy.
We have had one constitutional crisis after another precisely because our system is broken. The checks don’t work and our system is anything but balanced. The opposition claims the executive is all powerful, while the ruling party claims that both the legislature and the judiciary are trying to hijack the government. The only way forward is through leveling the playing field. I propose we do this in two ways; implementing a real power of veto and meeting our constitutional obligations regarding the judiciary.
At Democracy’s Doorstep
It is self-evident that the democracy we fought for against 30 years of tyranny has not come to pass. In November of 2008, we merely started the next leg of a voyage that pioneers like the President and Vice President started two decades earlier.
In that moment, it was fitting that they embarked on this next leg together. And though much hailed as the fruition of hopes and dreams for democracy, what we failed to grasp is that the journey was not yet complete. The legislature, when controlled by a hostile opposition can bring the state to a standstill, while the judiciary remains with strong political bias and an ethos that should have ended when the middle ages did.
Democracy is meant to function with representation from the people. The people choose a president and a plan for five years, and while the implementation of that plan should be vetted through the legislature and the rule of law safeguarded by the judicature, neither of the two subsidiary bodies are supposed to take the helm of the country. A ship is supposed to have one captain, who is advised and guided, but whose direction and vision guides the course that the ship takes.
The reason why we have a presidential system is because we have the right to choose the vision to guide our nation. We choose our President and Vice President as they are directly elected by us. We choose our path for five years.
But say they both, God forbid, die tomorrow. Our Speaker becomes interim President till elections are held. In parliamentary systems, those who control parliament head government as well, and they do fine – right?
Wrong. If the Speaker led government, we would have a man who represents only 0.2 percent of the voting population (having won his seat with a total of 305 votes). A delightfully clearheaded and capable man though he is, he would not represent the people. We would not have a say in how our country should progress.
In 2008, when we voted, we had our say. Fine, a bunch of people voted against the former President, rather than for this one – but that is one of the growing pains of overcoming dictatorship. We chose this path, so it is time we stopped institutional mechanisms from hindering it.
We stand here at democracy’s doorstep, afraid to cross the threshold because of our authoritarian past. But the point of government is not to constantly bicker and make governing impossible, but rather to provide for those who elected you to power – not through handouts but rather through policy that changes things rather than causes stagnation.
The Point of Majlis
All the Majlis has done for the last three years is to find ways to cause stagnation rather than governance. The opposition believes that every government policy is wrong and that instead of dialogue, the only avenue available is to block policy. It is not about helping the people – it is about making sure the government fails.
That is not the way a government is supposed to function. Apart from the fact that our newly elected Majlis members have no resources, guidance, or staff to assist them – we are also encumbered by a significant institutional failing: the President has no veto.
When the President sends a bill back to Parliament because it is either inconsistent with his vision, or because it may be damaging to the people, it is but a symbolic gesture in our country. In other nations, such an action can only be overturned by a stronger majority (such as two-thirds).
Yet in the Maldives, a simple majority can force a bill through. A simple majority can hijack government and change the course of our ship. This is not the way it was meant to be. Because of the electoral system by which our parliamentarians are chosen, and because of the other factors that influence parliamentary functions, that simple majority can never equal the weight of the office of the President. To change our course and to change the direction which our country follows, we must empower our president with the authority to stand against the tyranny of a minority, and only ever let the will of the majority override the vision we chose.
An Independent Judiciary
Yet a nation cannot function, unless the rule of law is safeguarded. We worked long and hard to ensure that the judiciary would be one that was independent and free from political and social bias. There is but one mechanism to keep the judiciary accountable; the Judicial Services Commission. Alas, this mechanism has failed. It was tasked with thinning the herd, with vetting our judges, and with maintaining some level of dignity on the Maldivian bench. As described by Dr Azra Naseem, we had our moment to hold the judiciary to some standard, and we collectively dropped the ball.
The constitution clearly empowers this commission to take disciplinary action, including dismissal proceedings, against judges for incompetence or gross misconduct. And yet, when they finally get around to finding that Abdulla Mohamed failed to comply with the required standard of conduct, on the 26th of November 2011, the same judge managed to have a court order issued preventing further proceedings. The one body charged with keeping our courts in check has proven itself powerless to fulfill its constitutional mandate.
Here, we have a judge whom most agree is corrupt – or at the very least unfit to sit in so high an office; we have a judge who is blatantly politically biased and admits as much on national television; we have a judge who has released criminals including rapists and drug dealers and who has been seen cavorting with defendants after his rulings; and yet we as a nation and a people are powerless to remove him from the office which he so flagrantly disgraces. Can there be a constitutional failing that is more evident than the one embodied in this man?
A Constitutional Amendment
Our path and our national progression are being hindered by mechanisms that do not function. We have a President determined to follow through on the promises he made when elected; to provide housing, healthcare, transportation, less drug abuse and a better standard of living. Yet even basic policies are refuted, not by the merit of the program, but rather by the party which proposed it. And now there are few avenues that are open to move forward. We need to move beyond stagnation as a policy for politics. We need to change the game. There is but one captain of this ship. For five years, we choose one captain, one direction and one path. In 2013 the path might change, but before that happens – let fix these mechanisms. Let’s become the democracy we were always meant to be.
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18 thoughts on “Comment: One captain, one course”
It is time to think and work hard for the sake of the development of the country but you, just like other countries, have to learn on how to live in and with democracy. It takes time, but don't say you cannot as that would be the first sparkle to take you back. There is not way back. Some European countries needed 25 years to settle a democratic spirit, What is happening to Maldives is the beginning of the process. Keep working, keep working and you will see the light. Stop working and you will go back to the age of the cave. It is not a time to stop … other countries are watching you.
I think you are forgetting a little detail about the state abducting a citizen and holding him in secrecy for about two days. According to international conventions we are party to,that is a crime against humanity, since that falls under the crime of 'enforced disappearance'. Moreover, the military did not obey the ruling of the Supreme Court. That is a violation of the laws of the land and the constitution. Also the EU has expressed their concern about this violation, and a group of lawyers has also forward this case to the international criminal court. So these aspects of the story may need to be mentioned, you know, just for completeness.
Nietzche said that to defeat a tyrant you must become one.
Neither Maumoon nor Anni have ever wanted to be tyrants. Maumoon described himself in his Autobiography as a Humble Servant. Anni described his Government as a Compassionate Government.
In the struggle to repress tyranny, both leaders seem to have created, or revived and strengthened structural monsters which feed on Nulafakan (Ruthlessness) bribery, blackmail, repression, character defamation, intimidation, brutality. In their desparation to repress the tyranny, they fail to perceive they have create monsters they cannot control.
Every historical attempt to kill and end the tyranny of the 'Rannumari' Jinni which tyranizes the Dhivehin has only ended up giving new life and power to the Ranamari, who returns in a new form.
I am of the opinion that some form of a radical, bottom up cultural evolution would have to occur for this cycle to be broken.
An underlying theme to all the problems and tensions we see on the surface is - Maldives is just too small for a meaningful democracy to take effect.
Do you think it is true when i say that the "content" and "context" of what politicians are saying to benefit or harm the democratic process is not of concern to the public and the opposers, but rather the focus is primarily on the politicians as a "person" and his or her "personality".
If the collective intellect of the public operate at this shallow level, what you have expressed in your article falls on deaf ears and numb minds. You would stir the imagination and stimulate greater reaction of the so called "public" if you attacked Ablo Gazee, Gasim Ibrahim and Yameen at a personal level. Wouldn't you agree.
The change from Maumoon to Nasheed was spawn by the death of a convicted fellon, and ever since then, what the public has learnt and has been taught is to blame others and dwell on the circus that unfolds is what democracy is all about.
This is a worrying psychological phenomenon that i am seeing day by day vindicating my belief in what i am saying here.
It is a state of mind i find most worrying and hindering any solace and peace for many years ahead.
The cost of which is we stand to loose the prosperity and development of this beautiful and fragile country.
The young entrepreneurs of today loose their opportunity to build a stable footing for their children, the old people see chaos in the homeland as they approach their death, uncertainty prevails three "power to be" pitch fights against each other.
Perhaps we are better off being ruled by a benevolent tyrant and that's the correct model to govern a country of this geography, population and economy.
Ah young Salim, I think your whole article is geared towards promoting dictatorship rather than democracy. Please re-read it and give my critique some thought.
First things first. The current government was elected through a highly questionable process. Before you start shouting Qayyoom-lover, let us all examine the facts. The "bunch of people" you so off-handedly refer to as Qayyoom supporters was over 40 percent of the electorate in the first round of voting. Meanwhile Nasheed and your father managed to secure only 24 percent. I don't think there is need for further elaboration on this point.
The only available strategy was to form a coalition with fellow contenders Dr. Hassan Saeed and Qasim Ibrahim whose support base, agenda and interests differed largely with the MDPs. Saeed contributed his 16.67 percent and Qasim threw his 15.22 percent behind Nasheed and Waheed who managed to beat Qayyoom by only 8 percent. Qayyoom who made few friends in the second round only managed to increase his support to over 45 percent while Nasheed pulled through with 53.
Now let me get to my point. Nasheed only managed to secure the Presidency by forming a partnership with Saeed and Qasim. Hence, the people who elected him voted on that basis. Although I am sure you must be trembling to point out, our system of governance is Presidential and therefore such a coalition has no legal standing, it was morally imperative on Nasheed to continue to honor the expectations of voters.
That moral authority was lost as Dr. Munavvar pointed out once, when Nasheed, Qasim and Saeed failed to maintain the coalition the narrow majority of the electorate voted for.
Also the voting public knew little of democracy except that it would be different from Qayyoom's rule and that it would yield higher dividends. Institutional reform was of little interest to the general public and was left to the engineers who drafted the constitution and steered the country towards its present course. How did judicial reform suddenly become the most pressing matter of the day? Surely 53 percent of the public did not bring Nasheed into power to spend the larger part of his rule focusing on the judiciary.
The fact of the matter is, Nasheed's re-election campaign is based on;
- Securing criminal convictions for opposition competitors (the Criminal Court needs to be eating out of the Executives hand for this).
- Making progress on secularizing the country in order to please his puppetmasters (the judiciary needs to be brought on board for this purpose).
- Consolidating one-man one-party rule through subjugating the judiciary which is the last remaining bulwark that has not fallen to the MDP (whether the opposition controls it or not, it is the only institution that in most cases will not act as a rubber stamp body steered by the will of the President).
I am extremely happy to see you are thinking of creative means of forming judicial independance. The Maldives is desparate for justice, yet through desparation for justice???
As you stated, the body responsible for making the judiciary accountable, independant, is powerless.
Yet the judiciary has to be independant.
Arrest Justice Abdullah and others, and replace them with who? Judges who serve and protect the interests of MDP? If honest judges do exist, they would not serve either, any party, and would not be supported by either, I suspect, and not get into power.
constitutional change, YES! replacing judiciary every tenyears maybe? Or even, creating first Chief Justice through a vote of best candidates slected from an ndependant body based on a criteria of knowledge plus character? TOO Radical!!!
yet it is just as start, come on guys, think, think think!!! We have to figure out a way to resolve this!
What is Salim whaeed tyring to achieve here? Anni is far more smarter than your father. You think your father could outwit our president. But he is alwyas several steps ahead. Your father has a track record of organizing devious activities to outwit our president. How many times has he done this even in the last three years? We the real MDP people dont trust your father. He is just waiting to create a crack somewhere so that he can open it an get into the top job. Dont write stuff like this to show that you are supporting Anni. You dont. We know your agenda.
One Captain, one course may not be the most suitable for Maldives current situation. A Captain of a ship is more comparable to a benevolent dictator as he has all the powers in his hand, and no one is authorised to question his decisions.
Whichever way anyone may want to paint it, the fact is had we a voting system of first past the post like Singapore, Pr.Maumoon will still be holding office. Those of us who wanted change were fortunate that we have a run off system. Maumoon managed to get 42% or almost 2.5 times as much votes as Nasheed. In the second round, it was the support of Dr.Hassan and Qasim Ibrahim that won him the majority with 54%. This is a fact, however few MDP members accept this now.
Hence it has to be accepted that the Presidency was not given by the voters to a single policy, there are those who argue, not without a reason that it was for two and half years.
As such, it is reasonable to believe that the day Dr.Hassan and Qasim left the coalition, Nasheed would no longer enjoy the blessings of the majority. This was clearly seen in the Parliamentary Elections, where MDP won just about 33% of the seats.
The President seems to be over influenced by party activists whose remarks inflame the Opposition more and more, which finally led us the extreme polarization we see today.
While the President advices his follower to be humble in success, this is not what we have seen today. What hardcore activists fail to understand is two third of the voters are not MDP members. A figure higher than MDP membership do not belong to any party. From very early on, the President is seen as the Party man first and then the country's President. This is obvious from the colours in any of his visits to islands. If his PR side were bright, we would have seen more national flags.
This is where the Government has gone wrong. The day Pr.Nasheed acknowledges that the reason for him being in office is no other reason, but just over 50% of Maldivians wanted to see a different face in office, and makes his decisions in a way the majority of the people want, he will get all the cooperation he needs.
Rasgefaanu, your comment proves the point I am trying to convey. You fail to criticize the content and go on a personal attack. I fail to see anything in the article which would either gain or lose support to the VP.
Now that you have mentoned him, Dr.Waheed ran as Nasheed's VP as a coalition partner. He is not a member of MDP, and has every right to express his true feelings on any subject. He would probably be in the same boat as the other two coalition partners, if that has been an easy process.
Once again I have to say this. The President could not get a majority when he ran on an MDP ticket. He got elected with the support of a coalition which contributed a bigger share of the votes. You guys need to accept this and let the President do his job rather than spending all the Government's time on witch hunts.
ML, that is a fact that he won due to the support of the other parties. But it is according to our constitution that there is a run off if no one gets the 50% of the votes. This first past the post has been criticised in many countries and in places like France they discovered that is is more democratic to have a run off.
As for you to show Singapore as an example really takes the biscuit. Singapore is not a democracy by any stretch of the imagination and for Maldives to be an aspiring democracy, following Singapore is not the right path.
Salim's article is spot on that the Judicial Services Commission is the culprit here and they should be held accountable for all this trouble that is going on in Male. Unfortunately The Majlis would not hold them to account and no one else will.
I am confident that if the JSC and The Majlis takes lead in the corruption scandal of the judges without trying to oust the Government, they, the Government would also be held accountable if they break the law.
Progress towards democracy is hindered by continued low levels of education and the fragmentation of the population to the extent that the small island populations presently existing in Maldives are too easily intimidated and oppressed by thugs and religious fanatics.
Manik, I agree with you fully on the problems on the Judiciary, and you may note that I did not mention it. My comment was more on the root of all the problems we face.
Re Singapore, I mentioned it just as an example of a first past the post, not in any way as an example of freedom. In any case their President is a ceremonial post.
I have to disagree on the last point, even if we settle the Judiciary and the Majlis, we will still have problems if the Government does not recognize and respect the facts I outlined in my comment. That is the way I see it. I wish Anni well and pray he will succeed, but we also have to be realistic.
ML, the moment the Majlis and the Judiciary becomes responsible, the excuse the government makes regarding these two institutions would no longer be valid.
They lose all respect in the International arena then. Now they have an excuse. If that happens they do not have that excuse. A lot of people including non MDP agree that the judiciary and the Majlis needs reforming.
Now if this happens and if still the government does not accept their verdicts, they lose all the moral right in being in government and a lot of MDP members themselves would revolt.
The big mess is that this whole concept is fundamentally wrong politically and the opposition is ignorant.
The system in Maldives now is a Parliamentary democracy without the Prime Minister. This is causing the whole mess.
In a Presidential style democracy there are checks and balances and there is no leader of the opposition etc.
What Maldives should do is go back to the basics and get the foundation right. Either have a Parliamentary democracy or a Presidential style like they have in the USA.
MDP should also try and work with the opposition MPs and try and get all the legal wrangling out of the way instead of the confrontational attitude they have.
What is the point of threatening Gayoom if they cannot prosecute him. What is the point of Alhan Fahmy threatening the judges? This is what happens when we elect ignorant imbeciles as MPs and the majority of them are like this.
They would not know what is the constitution and democracy even if they get bitten on their arse.
I agree with you on that I dread what would happen in the next few months. I do not know why Anni has this confrontational attitude? As a President he only has the mandate to rule according to the wishes of the majority of the people and not as the wishes of the MDP alone.
This is something he has to realise. Just because the opposition is fragmented and carries a lot of baggage does not mean that he would be shoo-in for the election in 2013.
Salim, this looks to be an analytical, well thought out article. Our democracy should have more mechanisms that allow governance. Governing should be much more important than the political fiasco we see every night. Keep up the good works!
Just one question for SWaheed. Why is it that you're seen driving around in a government car? are you employed by the government? if not what does that amount to, if not for corruption? And there are rumors about where you live. only children under 18yrs of age are to live wth a President or VP at a government provided home. I maybe misinformed, but just wondering what you would have to say about it.
I think this is a very good article and I also like the comments, except the personal ones. The Majlis and Executive were elected as stipulated in the amended constitution. However, reappointment of the Judiciary was marred with several controversies including Chief Justice. The Supreme Court is a Political compromise to meet a constitutional deadline. It is not surprising that we are facing several issues during implementation. Gayyoom was brought down because people wanted justice! We are still waiting for justice!
Good article with interesting facts. Please ignore those idiotic comments.
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